Jew-Hatred in Durban
September 3 , 2001
Among the milder signs held up in vicious anti-Israel protests in Durban, South Africa, this weekend was one depicting Israeli tanks and Palestinian protesters under the headline "David and Goliath." The ironic result of the UN's World Conference on Racism should be to remind the world how little reality has changed: Israel is still David opposite the Arab world's Goliath.
A statement adopted yesterday by some 3,000 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) declared that Israel is a "racist apartheid state" and guilty of "war crimes, acts of genocide, and ethnic cleansing." The draft statement expected to be adopted by a vote of governments this week is no better, branding Zionism as "based on racial superiority."
Against this background, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan's announcement that "the comparison of Zionism to racism is dead" rings empty, to say the least. The other ironic result of the conference - whose full name is World Conference on Racism, Xenophobia, and Related Intolerance - is to demonstrate just how alive and potent anti-Semitism is, in that it can be spread with impunity by formal international bodies.
Not satisfied with their attempt to rob Israel of any shred of legitimacy, the NGOs even deleted clauses that opposed anti-Semitism. This move at least had the merit of accuracy - why bother condemning hatred of the Jewish people when the blatant objective is to fan such hatred? As Alan Baker, the Foreign Ministry's legal adviser put it, "They have succeeded in turning the conference into a circus for Israel-bashing... it's inciting hatred."
The UN's orgy of hatred and intolerance has gone so far that even UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Mary Robinson, who also chairs the conference, declared her solidarity with the Jewish people after the Arab Lawyers' Union distributed a book of anti-Semitic cartoons. In a backhanded way, the statements by Robinson and Annan show that some progress may have been made since the 1975 "Zionism is racism" resolution - at least this time UN leaders are somewhat embarrassed.
The UN conference, after all, has allowed Jew-hatred - let's drop the confusing euphemism for a moment - to gush beyond a genteel game of differentiating between hatred of Jews and hatred of Israel. The UN has once again laid bare the canard that it is possible to deny the right of the Jewish people to self-determination without being accused of Jew-hatred. To make such a distinction is as absurd as saying that Italy should be wiped off the map and then pretending that this says nothing about one's feelings toward Italians.
In this context, the decision of the United States and Israel to greatly downgrade their delegations was the correct one. The dilemma in such circumstances is always whether to have people there to attempt to influence and respond, but there comes a point when it is more important not to add legitimacy to obscene statements and beliefs.
Just as it is a mistake to accord meetings of Holocaust deniers the respect of engaging them in debate, the proper place of democratic governments is outside of the conference hall in Durban. It is understandable that democracies would not want to be seen walking away from the legitimate cause of combating racism, xenophobia, and intolerance in the world. But what could be a greater manifestation of these hateful phenomenon than the attempt to deny Israel's right to exist?
The Durban conference brings the Arab-Israeli conflict back to its raw elements: a vast Arab world opposite tiny Israel, whose real crime is taking up one small corner of what is considered "Arab" territory. The conference could have championed a "two-state solution" to the Palestinian predicament, thereby supporting self-determination for both Israel and the Palestinians. Instead, by choosing to equate Zionism with racism and genocide and endorsing the "right of return" for every Palestinian, the UN conference turns the clock back to before Oslo and pulls the rug out from under any conceivable peace process.
If Western delegations fail in their attempts to save the UN conference from its hijacking by the Arab bloc - as seems all but certain - the appropriate response would be a mass walkout. Nor should Western nations be alone. Decent nations from around the world, including the many African, Latin American, and Asian countries that want to combat hatred rather than incite it, must choose between standing up for tolerance and peace, or encouraging the unquenchable hatred of the Arab Goliath.